Sunday, March 6, 2011

John S. Mosby on Slavery and the Cause of the Civil War

Greetings Cosmic Americans!

We all know about John S. Mosby, right? Yep - the storied  "Gray Ghost" commanded the 43rd Battalion, 1st Virginia Cavalry - aka Mosby's Raiders. He was known for lightning raids and quick other words he drove the Yankees nuts.

Mosby fancied himself a straight shooter (in more ways than one) and after the war had no problem speaking his mind - even on the controversial subject of slavery.

In a 1907 letter to Samuel Chapman, he wrote, "People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it. The South went to war on account of slavery. South Carolina went to war - as she said in her Secession proclamation - because slavery wd. not be secure under Lincoln. South Carolina ought to know what was the cause for her seceding."

Now if that is not straight to the point I do not know what is. And this from a former Confederate! Now the good people of the South (the white ones, anyway) for the most part looked down on this kind of talk. Mosby had some other problems, too. He supported Ulysses S. Grant for President. This audacious move earned him the title "alien" in at least one southern state - as he informed a Charlottesville acquaintance. I am sure he was called much worse.

Anyway - I'll admit that Mosby was the exception not the rule when it came to former Confederates and their stance on the "slavery as a cause" argument. I just wanted to point out that not all Rebels thought alike.




  1. Keith,

    You are correct - not all Southerners endorsed, as Mosby seemed to [in 1861] the concept of going to war SOLELY on account of slavery. Not to endorse Mosby, [please re-read those four little words] his comment of 1907 is actually a look-back to his 1861 stand, I believe.

    "The good people of The South" might have looked down on "this sort of talk" because the good people [mostly] we not slave holders - or racists! Those failings [slave holding and racism] were NOT limited to The South - and still today, in regards to racism, is not limited to The South.

    I don't know - correct my factoids - but I think only about 10% of the populace in the Slave States held slaves. wonders.... why, Confederate soldiers went to war to save an establishment that was only enjoyed by 10% of the land holders. Ten percent being the minority share.

    Was the Civil War SOLELY a fight of 'slave owning bigoted racists' against the righteous [industrial-complex owners] residents of The North? I don't want to argue about whose values are 'pearl-ier' TODAY - I am asking rhetorically - WAS the Civil War a single-issue war solely about the oppression of our neighbors? We tend to favor claiming our righteousness on today's values, instead of dissecting the values that lead to the mores of yesterday.

    Frankly, I think the pearl regarding Mosby is not in the fact that 'Yes' CosmicAmerica found another racist among the Confederates [child's play ;] but in the quote, "People must be judged by the standard of their age" - how many among us can diagram THAT little morsel, without casting aspersions?

    'Good on You' for finding a[nother] slavery loving, racist who would not be able to cross the threshold of most Southerners homes - yesterday OR today.

    Provocative, as always - I continue to enjoy your project and your features.

  2. only about 10% of the populace in the Slave States held slaves.Emily, that's an oft-quoted figure, but one that's very misleading, often intentionally so. That only refers to the number of individuals who actually held legal title to a slave, usually the male head of the household. It's far more instructive in understanding the prevalence and fundamental economic importance of slaveholding to look at the proportion of households that owned slaves, which is a much higher percentage. The 1860 U.S. census did not record that directly, but because the vast majority of slaveholding households (or "families" as the census then termed them) only included a single slaveholder, it's easy to make rough estimates of how common slaveholding actually was. The rough proportion varied tremendously from state to state, ranging from 1 in 5 in Arkansas to 1 in 2 in Mississippi and South Carolina. In the eleven states that formed the Confederacy, there were in aggregate just over 1 million free households, which between them represented 316,632 slaveholders—meaning that just under one-third of households in the Confederate States counted among its assets at least one human being. I discussed this in much more detail at The Atlantic last summer, if you're interested. (Note the comments thread there is long since stale, so if you have questions you can ask them here.)

  3. "People must be judged by the standard of their own age. If it was right to own slaves as property it was right to fight for it."

    I think this gets to the complexities of the situation. Slavery was not just an institution in the South at that time, it was a Constitutional right. Many people did fight for states' rights, but the endangered such rights in particular were and revolved around slavery. In this excerpt, Morgan seems to understand both the desire to defend legal rights in a Constitutional republic and the unkind truth about what those rights were.

  4. Grant's family owned slaves. His wife inherited them, but unlike Lee, they held onto the slave until 1865 when they had to.

  5. Chris - get your facts straight before you post.

  6. The argument that since only a small percent of southerner's owned slaves therefore: (1) the war wasn't about slavery and (2) most southern whites weren't racists are both equally dumb ideas. There is no logical reason why non-slave owners can not also be racists and that the war was to defend slavery as an economic institution and white supremacy as an ideology. Most Notherners were racists (believing that Africans are a subspecies inferior to Europeans). Lincoln was a racist and yet he was adamantly opposed to slavery as an economic institution. As the song says "although he may be poor, he shall never be a slave." It is just dumb and or dishonest to deny that slavery was the central struggle in the civil war.

    The fugitive slave act was promolgated and endorsed by a clear majority of Southern representatives and senators. That law over-rode the right of northern states to have their own personal liberty laws and to not participate in treating African-Americans as property. The fugitive slave act was (1) supported by the South and (2) a clear encroachment on state's rights by the federal government in favor of slavery. Therefore: the state's rights arguments about the causes of the civil war are simply specious.

  7. Confederate leaders were quite clear and vocal -- including Davis, Stephens. The SPREAD of slavery was the cause of secession, and they boasted of it. Lincoln's resistance to the SPREAD of slavery, Davis wrote, was "intolerable"

    Like every writer to this blog, Davis never mentioned the amazing vote by people in Kansas 98% to 2% against slavery. Have you ever seen that mentioned? Seriously, this is not rhetorical. Kansas voted 98% to 2% to keep slavery out.

    I can see why Jeff Davis "forgot" to ever mention this in his books and speeches about how terrible it was to keep slavery out of territories. But what excuse do text books, and history teachers have?

    Kansas votes AGAINST slavery 98% -- and it's like every one in US today has no clue. Try to grasp this. Kansas voted 98% - 2 % against slavery, and Southern leaders demanded -- and wrote in their Constitution, that slavery MUST be spread into Kansas, and legislation MUST be enacted there to protect slavery.

    Do you just not get that?

  8. You all may enjoy my screenplay about Mosby, SOMETHING GRAY, now an eBook on Amazon.

    Here's the trailer and link: